The blanket term "Middle Eastern" is more a phrase of convenience, because even with something as simple as falafel, there are variations. The Lebanese use both chick peas and fava beans, rolling them up with pickled turnips while the Israelis stuff theirs into pitas with eggplant and sometimes French fries.
Two new restaurants are feeding a growing appetite for the flavors from the Middle East. Yet each has its own unique approach.
Chickpea and garlic-studded falafel; juicy chicken shawarma, sliced thin off the spit; thick, tahini-laced hummus; and smoky baba gannoush. These are the hallmark dishes of the Middle East, more often than not found in Albany Park or along 63rd Street. But these dishes are being created with great care in Naperville, at the hard-to-miss Naf Naf Grill, along busy Ogden Avenue. While the dishes scream Middle Eastern, the owner says they actually skew a bit more toward Israel.
"We have schnitzel chicken breast breaded with sesame lightly fried, we have also purple cabbage salad that you won't find anywhere else," said Sahar Sander, owner of Naf Naf Grill.
Even Sander's Jerusalem salad is special: seedless cucumber and roma tomatoes, chopped throughout the day to keep it fresh. His kebabs are either chicken thigh or beef tenderloin, and the best thing of all? His pita is made from scratch, all day, everyday.
"It's labor intense but you know it pays, you know there not that many people out there that deliver the bread to you as fresh as you get it of course obviously here and it makes a huge impact, difference on the entire sandwich," said Sander.
Speaking of sandwiches, the core of the menu at the new Falafill in Boystown is the namesake vegetarian fried treat.
"Obviously you come in you order falafel sandwich and the product is falafel. Basically you take the falafel take the sandwich and you fill it, so we said falafill," said Nemer Ziyad, owner of Falafill.
The contents of their falafel are pretty standard: chick peas, onions and garlic, mashed up with fresh parsley, cilantro and spices. The mixture is ground-up, then fried-to-order. But the most impressive element of this concept - which is sure to expand to other neighborhoods - is the toppings bar. From salads, such as roasted cauliflower, tabouleh and Tunisian carrots.. to vibrant Middle Eastern toppings, including garlicky zhug, creamy yogurt and spicy harissa.
"We are trying to cover all the different countries; you have a mix of things, you know there's product that's done in Egypt, product that's done in Israel, product that's done in Lebanon, product that's done in Jordan, so its kind of mixture of many different regions or countries of the Middle East," said Ziyad.
The great thing about both places, you can eat very well for less than ten bucks.
Naf Naf Grill
1095 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville
3202 N. Broadway